“Escort the Lords to the Appleton Room on the fourth floor,” Eugene instructed. “And escort the Lady to the Aephina room.” The butler then turned to us and bowed. “I hope your stay here will be comfortable. I apologize but I must take your leave now.” He hurried over to assign rooms to other guests. Poor Eugene, he must be very busy. So many guests are here.
“If you would kindly follow me, My Lords and My Lady,” said the servant as he led the way to the inside of the castle. The three Rice siblings who came with us also followed quietly.
The inside of the castle was even more beautiful than the outside. The walls and arches were all brightly colored. It gave off a light and tranquil feeling. The stairways all had beautiful tapestries and paintings on the walls.
“Have all the guests arrived?” asked Alex.
“Most of them, My Lord.”
“Has the Grand Duke gone out for some errands?”
My ears sharpened. I pretended not to be interested in the conversation. I was just curious. The host usually greeted the guests themselves.
“No, My Lord… he’s… uh,” stammered the servant.
Is he hiding in his room because he hates people? I wondered. There was a sudden loud noise from the other side of the hallway. All of us turned that way. It was the Eastern Wing which was ‘prohibited’ to other guests.
“Is there a reason why you insist on stopping me here?” asked a squeaky voice of a young girl. “I want to look around!” I remembered that squeaky voice.
“The guests are arriving,” said another voice. “As the Lord of the castle, I will nee to leave and welcome them. I will give you a tour of the place tomorrow…”
“I said I want to look around now!” A girl dressed in luxurious clothing surrounded by several soldiers and maids entered the hallway.
Last time at the party, I had thought that someone with a very poor dress had adorned that girl into that ghastly dress, but it seems I was wrong. Dull… muted colors must be her taste, indeed. Today, she wore a dark green, velvety dress which I bet added to the already hot weather.
Is she cold? Or just that she thought she would look elegant and commanding in that dress? It was a formidable dress and it would have looked very elegant on someone taller. But she looked more like the child she was trying so hard to hide.
Three of us looked at each other and proceeded up the stairs at the end of the hallway. We had decided, unanimously, to pretend to have heard and seen nothing. For all intent and purposes, we weren’t on that floor at all. If we, especially I, ran into her, it wouldn’t be very pleasant after what had happened in the party. We decided to leave the matter to the owner of the house to solve.
However, the world doesn’t really fulfill wishes. “Aaron?” We heard the Princess’ voice from over the other end of the hallway. “Aaron! I didn’t know you were coming too.”
Aaron closed his eyes for a second. Alex and I looked at him with sympathy. We slowly turned around. The Princess clutched the hem of the heavy velvet dress and walked towards us enthusiastically. The Grand Duke followed behind her, looking ill.
When he was sure the Princess was turned towards us and couldn’t see him, he made a pistol with his fingers and put it on his temple. It meant ‘someone please kill me’.
“Your Highness.” We descended down the stairs and greeted her. The princess’ gaze turned to me for a moment, and her mouth twisted oddly like she had just realized that she had eaten something that tasted very bad.
Does she still hold a grudge against me? That’s not good. No one should make an enemy of the royal family, let alone the crown princess. I will need to figure out a way to resolve this as soon as possible.
I knew what I had to do. I would need to sacrifice Aaron since she somehow had taken to him. I will make him stick to her to get on the princess’ good side. But I need to know what she wants from him to be able to help.
“We didn’t know you were here, Your Highness. What a pleasant surprise!” said Alex, bowing respectfully. “If we had known, we would have greeted you first.”
Of course, it wasn’t a surprise. She was the Crown Princess. If she wasn’t invited to a place where every other young person from other noble household were invited, it would imply an insult directly to the royal throne. From the butler’s reaction, it seemed she wasn’t really welcome here but tolerated.
“Well… I found out uncle was holding this gathering,” said the Princess, “And thought perhaps he had forgotten to invite me by accident. So, I came to attend.”
“So, you came without an invitation?” I blurted. Aaron nudged me hard on my side.
“What are you doing?” shouted a voice. The Princess turned a little red. She was not shy, by any means. That was the color of anger.
I saw the young man who had shouted. I had seen that face before. A handsome face but a greasy one. Tangled hair that he had straightened and donned on an outfit. He had really taken an effort to look presentable since the time I saw him last. I would remember that vile, arrogant voice anywhere.
“The second of the Duke Ayble. Duplo,” I said as I nodded at him to acknowledge his presence. His face turned a little pale.